Students take innovative STEM solutions centre stage

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Around 1000 students from 46 secondary schools across New South Wales (NSW) showcased solutions to community challenges at the STEM Community Partnerships Program (STEM CPP) end-of-year celebration.

The students’ innovative solutions addressed biodiversity, cybersecurity, housing, and worker shortages.

STEM CPP is part of Generation STEM, a 10-year NSW Government initiative that aims to make science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) accessible, relatable, and inclusive to NSW students and workers.

STEM skills offer diverse career opportunities

Chief Executive Dr Doug Hilton says STEM-based skills offer students diversity, with CSIRO researchers working on everything from protecting Australia’s World Heritage Sites against climate change to designing imaging techniques to monitor and save baby corals.

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Dr Hilton says STEM CPP is so valuable because there are many different types of STEM careers to choose from.

“The collaboration between local schools, industry, and Councils could help strengthen the NSW STEM talent pipeline and inspire more students to pursue STEM-related careers,” Dr Hilton says.

“The program’s end-of-year showcase was a fantastic opportunity for the students to share what they’ve learnt through the year. It takes courage and creativity to come up with the best solutions and push through the challenges, failures, and disappointments to make your solution work. Congratulations to the students, teachers, and industry partners on all that you’ve achieved.”

Some of the key industry partners supporting STEM talent include Cingulan Space, Leidos Australia, Sydney Olympic Park Authority, Sydney Water, and Iberdrola. These events celebrated achievements, fostering engagement and connection between industry and the students.

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Mayor of Campbelltown, Dr George Greiss said that STEM CPP introduces local students to the real-world possibilities of a career in STEM and gives them an opportunity to test their knowledge and skills in a professional environment with guidance from industry.

“It’s fantastic to see the students’ work during the end-of-year showcase and how they’ve looked to solve local issues such as plastics recycling, energy, biodiversity and heat stress,” he says.

The value of hands-on learning

Unity Grammar science teacher from and first-time STEM CPP participant Farhana Rahman said says the students work independently on a problem and put their scientific skills into action was one of her highlights.

“We have our research projects, where students choose an open-ended investigation and are guided through a structured inquiry process.

“But with STEM CPP, the students have the opportunity to collaborate on a selected project and develop their own solutions with very little input from the educators. I was very impressed by their ingenuity,” Farhana said.

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“STEM CPP allows students interested in science to flourish. It’s a great opportunity. I saw them explain their projects to other teachers and students, and you could see there was a sense of enthusiasm and pride.”

Bexley, a Macquarie Fields High School student, highlighted the significance of group work and learning about STEM. Ruby, a student from Elderslie High School, emphasised the importance of collaborative efforts with her group and the creation of new designs.

“Our project centred on the impact of drought on produce. We developed a hydroponic system aimed at assisting farmers during droughts,” Ruby said.

“Our water system effectively retains and recycles water throughout these periods. I feel motivated by the idea that I can create something to aid people and the environment.”

One Unity Grammar Year eight group, inspired by the Return and Earn program, focussed on recycling. They developed a compact machine named Paper Buddy to address the problem of paper waste in schools. The group plans to install the machine in every classroom, and when the paper tray is full, it dispenses a token that can be exchanged for a class award.

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Another group repurposed bottle caps by using a sandwich press lined with baking paper. They transformed the caps into keychains, name tags, and coasters.

Shaping the future workforce

Inquiry-based learning is an educational approach centred on investigation and problem-solving where teachers introduce students to various scenarios, questions, and problems for them to explore.

Real-world issues that directly affect the students and the community serve as motivation.

The Generation STEM 2019-2022 evaluation report shows that attending a showcase event (91 per cent) and completing inquiry-based learning projects (89 per cent) have a significant impact on increasing STEM education awareness.

For some students, STEM CPP is a chance to work on projects they care about and learn by experimenting. Others see it as an opportunity to turn ideas into real solutions for a better future.

Mayor of Camden, Cr Ashleigh Cagney said STEM is incredibly important for students who will soon enter a workforce in an ever-changing world.

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“With the rise of new technologies in biomedicine, microfabrication, robotics and artificial intelligence, the bright young minds who took part in this program will one day lead us through these changes.

“I have four young children and the world I want them to live in is one where the bright young people who will influence our future are guided through fantastic programs like this one,” she says.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]